In the movie, a shapeshifter changes her appearance to look like Captain Kirk while Kirk and McCoy are trying to escape the Klingon prison, Rura Penthe.

Kirk fights the shapeshifter while the Klingon prison guards track them down. The prison commander then kills the shapeshifter while she looks exactly like Kirk. It's clear the Klingons wanted to kill the shapeshifter anyway so there would be no witnesses.

How did the prison commander know which person to kill since the shapeshifter and Kirk looked identical?

Is there something in the novelization of the show that says how the prison commander knew?

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    The Klingon sense of smell is acute (Birthright, Part 2). Imitation of body odor might have been beyond the shapeshifter's capabilities. – Gaultheria Sep 24 '17 at 1:53
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    I think what's really going on is the Klingons didn't care which was the real Kirk. They just needed a pretext to kill him, and were planning to kill both McCoy and the shapeshifter also. – Todd Wilcox Sep 24 '17 at 17:01

It should be noted that the real Kirk was still wearing his ankle restraints. Martia took hers off just before they breached the wall for the escape.

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    Is there visual proof that Kirk didn't get his restraints removed at some point between escaping the mines and the duplicate fight? I don't recall this detail. – ApproachingDarknessFish Sep 24 '17 at 20:31
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    There's also zero indication that the Klingon Commandant would have any knowledge of this snippet of information – Valorum Sep 24 '17 at 21:00
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    @ApproachingDarknessFish If you play the video snippet above, you will see Kirk and Bones are still wearing ankle restraints, but the false Kirk has none. – RichS Sep 24 '17 at 23:51
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    @RichS - I'm not disputing that. I'm saying that this method of detection only works if you know that the Kirk without a chain is the fake Kirk. – Valorum Sep 26 '17 at 7:13
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    @Valorum Wouldn't he able to deduce it by knowing a shapeshifter could change form and remove the chains while a human could not? – RichS Sep 26 '17 at 7:14

The implication, according to the film script and official novelisation is that the Commandant didn't know. Having two Kirks was annoying him so he killed one of them. By mere coincidence, it happened to be the shapeshifter.

KIRK: Not me, idiot - HIM!

[The Commandant appears briefly confused, then VFXA: ZAPS the FALSE Kirk, who dies horribly, as Bones watches. Kirk sighs.]

COMMANDANT: (smiles) No witnesses -

[He aims at Kirk and Bones]

BONES: (conversational) Damned clever if you ask me...


The commandant turned to favor Kirk and McCoy with an ironic gap-toothed grin. "No witnesses..."
As Jim had suspected, the commandant had never meant to keep his bargain with Martia. He lifted his weapon and aimed it at Jim and Bones. "Damned clever if you ask me," McCoy said conversationally,

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    I don't understand how that implication follows from the quotes you've provided. – ApproachingDarknessFish Sep 24 '17 at 0:50
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    @ApproachingDarknessFish - There's no indication offered that he knew which was the shapeshifter. It therefore follows that he didn't know. – Valorum Sep 24 '17 at 0:51
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    In that case, maybe a shapeshifter was impersonating Kirk for the next 20 years after that. – RichS Sep 24 '17 at 1:14
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    The point is that he was going to kill them both anyways, so he really didn't care which was real. In universe, it was blind luck. Out of universe, it would have ruined the story to kill Kirk. – pojo-guy Sep 24 '17 at 3:54
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    @pojo-guy - Precisely. – Valorum Sep 24 '17 at 6:04

It's subtle, but having watched this movie as many times as I have, I think the difference is actually visible on screen.

Fake Kirk:

  • Comically points into the air before he even begins speaking.
  • Gives us the laughably forced and awkward dialog, "Kill him! He's the one!"
  • Keeps their face flat and frozen while speaking.
  • Altogether looks like a goofy alien impersonator.

Real Kirk:

  • Gestures as he speaks, and actually points at his doppelganger.
  • Acts realistically frustrated and emphatic.
  • Speaks with emotion and facial expression.
  • Altogether acts like a believable human.

INB4 obligatory joke about William Shatner's acting style/abilities.

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    Valorum is probably right in that the Klingon was going to kill them both anyway. – Mark Rogers Sep 24 '17 at 23:57
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    @Mark Undoubtedly. But the question asks how the Klingon told the difference, and I think that he could indeed tell the difference, regardless of how he intended to act upon it, if at all. – ApproachingDarknessFish Sep 25 '17 at 0:01

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