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Did John Murdoch spontaneously gain the ability to tune, or was it manufactured by Doctor Schreber and injected into him?

Right from the beginning of the movie, Schreber seems to have a plan for Murdoch (warning him to escape from The Strangers). It seems strange that he should realize Murdoch's ability and come up with a fairly elaborate scheme so quickly.

So did Schreber just make up the plan to retake the city going along, did he plan everything beforehand? If he planned everything, did he just suspect someone might get the ability to tune eventually, or did he manufacture it somehow?

If so, Schreber is pretty much the master-mind retaking the city, with John "merely" being a pawn in his scheme.

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I always interpreted it as Schreber generally aiming to defy the Strangers, but without having a specific plan in mind. He knew that John could "tune", but I don't think he had specific knowledge of just how powerful he was. – phantom42 Aug 19 '14 at 19:25
I always understood it like that too, but now it hit me there's nothing actually contradicting a "Schreber made it all happen" interpretation. – user31855 Aug 19 '14 at 19:38
I can't remember, was John someone else before he was imprinted with the "John Murdoch" personality? Either way +1 for a good Dark City question, one of my favorite movies of all time! – Monty129 Aug 19 '14 at 19:42
@user31855 IIRC, the doctor was as surprised as he could be when John defended against being "imprinted" his new personality (at the beginning of the film), and he seemed to need to do some thinking before concluding that such defense meant that John had the same powers of the Stranges. So my guess is that he was not expecting that to happen to John. Of course, he was aware that any rebellion against the Strangers would need to use their powers and was already working in it (including the "training" serum). – SJuan76 Aug 19 '14 at 22:39
@Monty129 as I remember it, he keeps his "old" personality (old could be as much as one or two days). He was about to be "imprinted" as a serial killer, but while unconscious he rejected the serum and the personality change did not happen (he remembered his wife, who no longer remembered him and who she meets at the docks at the end). – SJuan76 Aug 19 '14 at 22:41
up vote 6 down vote accepted

I don't believe this is directly addressed in the movie, but the early script did (November 29th, 1992).

In the original script, there is a conversation between Schreber and John where Schreber says that he had been experimenting on him.

The doctor removes a SMALL SYRINGE from his black bag, places it on the table in front of the glass, blocks it from the guard's view.


If you would only take this, inject it in your brain, everything would be much clearer.


Not that again...


Everyone get's one - very much like this...

(points to syringe)

But this one's special. It will help you understand, everything...

WHITE (cuts in)

I'm not injecting anything into my brain.


Anton - I mean, John, there has been an experiment, a dangerous experiment. I arranged it. It was a lie from the beginning. It almost worked, but things did not go as they should have. You have been left - blank.

Schreber waves frantically at the air surrounding him.


You can change this, all this.

(points at syringe again) But you must take it.

But why John? Was John given the power from scratch? What made him different?

This earlier conversation, which Schreber passes off as his own rambling, leads me to believe that he was chosen due to scar tissue on John's brain.


SCHREBER is showing WHITE a series of CHARTS. The doctor seems nervous about White's potential for further violence.


Put simply... a penetration of the left parieto-occipital area of the cranium... complicated by inflammation that resulted in adhesions of the brain to the meninges. Without going into detail... the formation of scar tissue altered the configuration of the lateral ventricles, producing incipient atrophy of the medulla...

In the final cut of the movie, Schreber explains Dark City, the Strangers and John's ability to Tune to John. While not definitive, Schreber talks like John had or developed the ability independently. At this point, he has no reason to lie, so it would seem odd for him to change that one fact, or otherwise leave it out. From the transcript (Note that I added formatting and identified speakers):


Where do I fit in?


You're different. You resisted my attempt to imprint you. Somehow, you have developed their ability to Tune. That is how they change things, how they built this city. They have machines buried beneath the surface... that allow them to focus their telepathic energies. They control everything here, even the sun. That's why it's always dark. They can't stand the light.


Why do they need you?


When they first brought us here, they extracted what was in us and stored the information, remixed it like paint... and gave us back new memories of their choosing. But they still needed an artist to help them. I understood the human mind better than they ever could, so they allowed me to keep my skills as a scientist... because they needed them. They made me delete everything else.

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Adding to @Phantom42's answer, in another earlier version of the script (May 1994) it was indicated that Jonn Murdoch (or Jonathan Walker, as he was in this version) was a random mutation with altered genetics.

Schreber spotted this and intentionally allowed him to grow in power in order to help defeat the Strangers at their own game:

I've edited for brevity

SCHREBER V.O. : You are special, a random gene, created rarely, the Strangers know not why - I thought I could use you to advantage, to beat the Strangers at their own game...

SCHREBER V.O. You have special gifts you've only begun to understand. If you could have mastered them, you would have been a formidable foe.

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