So, the BBC has decided to move ahead with a feature film based on the "Doctor Who" television series, to be directed by "Harry Potter" regular, David Yates. According to this Variety article, the film will not follow the continuity of the current series, but strike out on its own. Some of the fans have not been taking this well, others are cautiously optimistic, and so on. You know how the song goes.
Now turning "Doctor Who" into a feature film has been done before. There were two theatrically released "Who" films made in the 60s starring Peter Cushing, which are not considered to be in continuity with the long-running television series. There was also a made-for-television movie with Paul McGann that the American FOX Network produced in the 90s, that is considered part of the series canon, in spite of some major plot inconsistencies. There have also been various spin-off media like audio plays and novels that have their own separate continuities. Fans of the series might fret that expanding the "Who" universe into films again might be some backdoor attempt by the BBC to put an end to their beloved series, which has been slipping in the ratings lately, but past features have had little impact on the televised "Doctor Who." And other franchises like "Star Trek" have pulled off juggling multiple series and movies before.
And if there's any science-fiction franchise that has the flexibility to accommodate couple of different concurrent versions at once, it's "Doctor Who." One of the reasons the show has endured for as long as it has is because the premise is so open-ended. You have an alien protagonist with the ability to "regenerate" into another form at the point of death, allowing many different actors to play the Doctor over the lengthy run of the television series. He flies around in a time-traveling spaceship having adventures, which can be set anywhere, and at any point in times. The Doctor's traveling companions regularly come and go, changing with the eras. So do his enemies, though the best ones like the Master and the iconic Daleks always seem to come back for more abuse.
A theatrical "Doctor Who" film, done with a bigger scope and budget than what the television show could ever hope to afford, could be a good thing for fans. There are parts of "Who" lore that the series has purposefully avoided - a proper origin story, for instance. When the Doctor first arrived on UK television screens in 1963, he was already an elderly gentleman with a granddaughter in tow. What were his early years like? What was going on in that war that the relaunched series made such a fuss over, but never showed us? Or a movie could take place further off in the Doctor's future. Or simply start over with the basic premise of an alien adventurer and his blue box, ignoring the decades of continuity offered by the show. Though if the continuity is ignored, there's a good chance that some eager fans will figure out a way to incorporate the separate universe anyway. Such is fandom.
You could even have two or more Doctors running around at once. In the show itself, the Doctor meets earlier incarnations of himself, usually any time "Who" has a major anniversary. In 1973, for the 10th anniversary, we had "The Three Doctors." In 1983 came "The Five Doctors." It's widely expected that the upcoming 50th anniversary will reunite whoever is still left standing and can be lured back into the studio. That's the kind of wonderfully weird, wild, boundary-side-stepping shenanigans that "Doctor Who" pulls off on a regular basis. Fans should really be used to this sort of thing by now. And they should also dust off those abandoned campaigns for various actors to play the Eleventh Doctor before Matt Smith was cast. There's a new position to fill.
Of course, the movie could be terrible. The wrong people might end up in charge, who will change everything they shouldn't or be too intimidated to change all the things that they need to, thus damaging the franchise. I doubt it though. "Doctor Who" has had its bad periods, and it's always bounced back from them. At worst, the film will be another failed experiment, like the 1996 made-for-television one. But you never know. A successful film might edge "Doctor Who" a little closer to immortality, allowing the character to join the ranks of British perennials like Sherlock Holmes and James Bond.
Speaking of which, is it really still another month and a half until the Christmas special?