Tuesday, August 21, 2012

William Windom

courtesy of michael
vance 1
from Flickr
Tuesday August 21, 9:59 a.m.

Was watching CP24 this morning when the news scroll suddenly showed the announcement that veteran character actor, William Windom, had passed away at the age of 88.

He was probably more well known to TV watchers as crusty Dr. Seth Hazlitt from "Murder, She Wrote", but I also knew him in his far earlier days portraying a regular heavy on episodes of the original "Mission: Impossible". He was always the sinister foreign politico with the secret agenda to destroy Western civilization as we had known it.

But for me, Windom struck me for just one role....a role that he never played again (except in one of those fan-based labours-of-love productions) but had a huge impact on the world of "Star Trek". He played the tragic Commodore Matt Decker of the USS Constellation on one of the Classic Trek classic episodes, "The Doomsday Machine". His appearance on the show was the first time I'd ever seen him, and looking at his other TV guest appearances over the decades, Matt Decker gave Windom the opportunity to really lash out; in those other roles, he played them crusty or evil but there was always a cap of control anchoring the performances.

What impressed me about Windom's portrayal of Decker was that he didn't play the role as complete hero or complete villain, and I can't even really peg him as an anti-hero. Commodore Decker was just this horribly traumatized starship commander who had lost his entire crew to this extra-galactic ultimate weapon, while he could only helplessly watch from his crippled ship, and simply went insane. The tragedy was that underneath all that rendered insanity was once an excellent captain....something that Windom allowed to show in parts. Watching the episode, I have always wondered if Commodore Decker was a reflection of what James Kirk could have ended up as if Kirk had been the one to face the weapon first rather than Decker. Of course, the "Moby Dick" allusions were spread on pretty thick here.

It wasn't the first time that the crew of the Enterprise had to deal with crazed Starfleet officers, but it was the first time to see a command officer go off the deep end, and it was intriguing to witness this gradual deterioration of a once-proud man due to something that even a Starfleet captain could not handle. "The Doomsday Machine"has regularly been voted as one of the very best Trek episodes of any of the series. The music, the story and the battle against the beast along with the battle of wills inside the Bridge amongst Decker, Kirk and Spock were all responsible for its high favour with Trekkies. And inside all that, it was William Windom's half-hour portrayal of that one character that made this episode one of the classics.