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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > DWM Special 43 – Special Effects > Trouble at Mill

Trouble at Mill

Will Cohen was the visual effects producer when Doctor Who returned to television in 2005. For the first time, he shares the “horrendous journey” the team undertook in order to get the series back up on its feet.
The rendered CGI model of the Satellite Five space station created by The Mill for The Long Game, Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways (all 2005).

Will Cohen’s childhood memories of Doctor Who are typical of many of his contemporaries. He grew up watching Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker but drifted away when Star Wars came along. “I just lost interest after that,” he admits. “All science-fiction on TV became harder to watch, because of the production values in the movies.”

Visual effects producer Will Cohen.

Three decades on, Will would be at the forefront of the battle to ensure it had the visual firepower to take on the best of the big screen.

Will grew up with an interest in special effects. “I remember doing a project on the 1978 Christopher Reeve Superman movie at school, looking at how they used blue screen to make him fly,” he remembers. He then studied drama at college. “But when I left and was looking for work, a cousin who was an online editor suggested I become a runner – and I got a job at The Mill in the early 1990s. Shortly after that, I remember saying to my agent, ‘Don’t put me up for any more acting gigs – I’m done. I’ve found a career.’”

Concept art created by Alex Fort in 2004, showing the spider-like robots that would appear on Platform One in The End of the World (2005).

At this time, the post-production and visual effects company was focusing on commercials. “Then they started working on Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys [1995], a pioneering film for UK visual effects,” he says. The production shone a spotlight on the talent available in Britain, which was then utilised by the big-screen version of Lost in Space (1998). “Then the Harry Potter films came along [commencing in 2001], which was a gamechanger,” explains Will. “And there were ten years of a billion dollars being pumped through our industry by Warner Bros.”

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Special effects can transport audiences to alien planets, render familiar surroundings unrecognisable and bring terrifying monsters to life. Doctor Who has been at the forefront of such television trickery for more than 50 years. This richly illustrated publication celebrates the series’ greatest effects and meets the people who created them. From the trailblazers of the 1960s to the digital artists of today, here is the story of Doctor Who’s journeys into the impossible.