Leela was somehow not a companion I expected to hear in the Companion Chronicles; I’ve no idea why. Perhaps it had to do with the possible difficulty in narrative voice; as Louise Jameson says in the commentary at the end of the CD, Leela is not stupid, just uneducated. In fact, this makes her quite a good narrative voice for a Companion Chronicle, given that she can only report on her sensual perception, in her own terms, and is not hampered by trying to tell the story from the Doctor’s perspective. My other reason, perhaps, is that the Companion Chronicles I’ve heard so far, with perhaps the exceptions of Transit of Venus and Old Soldiers, featured actors who are good mimics, which helps.
But being a good mimic does not prove to be the be-all and end-all for Companion Chronicles. As Jameson points out, it’s extremely difficult for a woman to mimic Tom Baker’s voice due to the pure physical aspect: large chest cavity and vocal apparatus! This actually lends quite another dimension to Jameson’s performance as the Doctor, somehow making him more like the Doctor Leela herself would have perceived, emphasizing his otherworldliness and moral distance, especially at points where he chides her for using lethal force. The other performances Jameson gives, as the Victorian mother and daughter pair, are quite effective. The Catalyst is quite hilarious in parts; we’ve seen how little time Leela has for creatures like this in Horror of Fang Rock and her often shocking rejoinders to poor Jessica make for great drama. Jessica is, despite her being firmly rooted in her time and class, starting to make for companion material, before things go horribly wrong.
Despite the perhaps light-hearted Gothic trappings that begin The Catalyst, in the end it proves to be a bloodbath. The clever way Timothy Watson is able to play the Z’Nai is helped by some good visual description, always vital for a Companion Chronicle. When Leela is given the power to inflict death by—how do I say this without spoiling you?—pervasive and yet low-effort means, I was reminded of Harry Potter’s surprising power over Quirrell/Voldemort at the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. This is quite empowering for a female companion in general, but in Leela it seems a surprising “gift” (it of course makes a wicked rejoinder/finale when she is captured as an old woman by the Z’Nai) that could be better spent on someone less formidable than Leela.