Award-winning BBC drama Shetland is back for series 8 with a thrilling, new six-part tale, as Met detective Ruth Calder (Ashley Jensen) returns to the Shetland Isles on the trail of a vulnerable witness, teaming up with Tosh (Alison O’Donnell) on a case that will test their fragile, new partnership.
After thirty years away, Met detective DI Ruth Calder heads back home on the trail of Ellen Quinn (Maisie Norma Seaton) – the scared witness to a London gangland murder. In Lerwick, Tosh pauses her investigation into a string of sinister animal deaths to help Calder find Ellen before it’s too late.
Ellen’s family are the influential and notorious Bains, led by dominant matriarch, Grace (Phyllis Logan). Calder and Tosh discover her mother Stella (Dawn Steele) and father Kieran (Barry O’Connor) haven’t seen Ellen since she left for London six months ago and are surprised to hear that she’s back in Shetland.
Matters are made worse when armed hitmen – the experienced Howell (Don Gilét) and volatile Nowak (Arnas Fedaravičius) – arrive on the Isles on a mission to silence Ellen.
On top of the twists and turns of the case, Calder is faced with figures from her past including her ex-boyfriend Cal Innes (Jamie Sives) and estranged younger brother Alan (Steven Miller) – now the minister of their late father’s old kirk. However, these siblings have starkly different views of their shared childhood.
It’s clear from the off, Calder has no love for Tosh’s adopted home and their journey into the dark recesses of Shetland’s past and present will test their partnership to the limit.
Inspired by Ann Cleeves’ Shetland novels, Shetland is a Silverprint Pictures production for the BBC.
Interview with Ashley Jensen
(DI Ruth Calder)
Welcome to Shetland! Tell us about your character, DI Ruth Calder.
She’s formidable, she’s strong, she’s a woman in a man’s world. Ruth Calder’s built this little barricade around herself – she’s almost like an island herself.
However, she’s very much an urban detective and is resentfully drawn back to Shetland. This case makes her confront herself, her past and the things that pulled her away from her home in the first place. Her resentment all stems from her history with the Shetland Isles and why she left all those years ago. It’s not that she doesn’t want to be there, the issue is she’ll need to face the past she left behind.
Ruth doesn’t expect to be in Shetland for very long – she comes with a tiny wee case and she hasn’t packed her hair straighteners.
What is the storyline for this new series of Shetland and how does Ruth Calder feel about returning ‘home’?
Ruth Calder is called to a London crime scene for a murder which could be connected to gangland crime. The case inadvertently takes Ruth back to the Shetland Isles because the eye witness, Ellen Quinn [Maisie Norma Seaton] is suspected of going on the run there, back to where she’s from. Calder feels an affinity with Ellen – after all she’s a girl who ran away from her life in Shetland and started a new one in the big city.
Ruth is used to getting things right and this is a complex case which is layered and doesn’t quite go the way she expects it to. There are so many different paths that she ends up going down.
How does Calder feel about Tosh and policing in Shetland?
Ruth is used to ganglands and murders, race crime and knife attacks…big urban crimes. So when she comes up to Shetland her heart sinks as she’s suddenly back in the world she left behind.
I think the pace of Shetland is an issue for Calder because it’s much slower than London and the urban policing she’s used to. Ruth’s a little bit of a lone wolf, she often dances to her own beat.
Tosh [Alison O’Donnell] is just as professional as Calder but needs to find her own way to navigate a new working relationship – ultimately they respect one another. They don’t treat each other with caution, I think that it’s just literally two different approaches to police work coming together but there is an element of good cop, bad cop.
So it’s not Tosh that Calder has an issue with – it’s the two different approaches to work. Both are valid and, as they start to work together as a team, they see their strength together.
If anything, Sandy irks her more because they probably knew each other in the past – that’s the back story Steven [Robertson] and I created anyway! I always think drama is drama when it’s about people’s relationships with one another.
How do Ruth and Tosh get on when they first meet and how do you see their relationship progressing?
At times, Calder almost acts like a big sister to Tosh but that might come across as nipping at her. There’s a glimmer of respect there that builds and builds – but that’s not to say that there won’t be moments when they annoy each other!
I also think Calder is a little envious of Tosh – she appears to have it all, a family life and a career.
There’s absolutely scope for them to get on and work together, they just need to get into each other’s groove. There will, of course, be moments of conflict which is always great because if everybody gets on all the time, it’s a wee bit boring.
What do you think are Calder strengths and weaknesses?
She’s very direct, she’s quite formidable with years of experience so she’s incredibly focused and very driven. When it comes to this particular case, however, her weakness is that she lets her personal issues get in the way a little bit.
I think if she took herself aside – and worked more as part of the team in the beginning – she’d achieve more. At the start, there might be a slight air of superiority about Calder with her taking the view that the Shetland team don’t work quite as well as her London team do. But she begins to realise that there are strengths in not jumping in with both feet at the same time. This is as much a personal story as a professional one for Calder.
What was it like joining an established cast like Shetland?
Everyone from the cast and crew were very welcoming from the start and genuinely excited to be back, as much as I was delighted to be there, playing this wonderful complex, complicated and yet confident character. Alison and I got on immediately and I hope that chemistry translates on screen.
The introduction of Ruth Calder creates a different energy for the original cast members and so we see new and different aspects of their characters, as we get to know DI Calder herself.
How was it like to film on the Shetland Isles?
I feel that Shetland is as much a character as the drama itself. Shetland is one of those places that I never, ever thought I would go or get a chance to work there. It was such a privilege to be there and rendered me speechless when I stepped off that wee plane the first time. There were Shetland ponies and puffins – it’s got its own identity which is quite exhilarating actually.
And then there’s the weather! One minute we had this horizontal rain and the next, a heatwave and it was like the tropics and everyone was going wild swimming. I felt like I was on my holidays.
There’s this sort of idea that when we’re British we have to go far afield to get away. After living in America for years, I’ve got this pull to visit Scotland more, so when Shetland came up I couldn’t resist.
How did you find the Shetland experience?
I loved it actually but to be honest as soon as I read the first scripts I was like “I’m in!”. The writer [Paul Logue] has given everybody a rounded character even down to the hitmen, Howell [Don Gilét] and Nowak [Arnas Fedaravičius]. Just the nuance and the detail of every character is amazing.
This new series of Shetland boasts a stellar guest cast – what was it like working with the likes of Phyllis Logan, Dawn Steele, Jamie Sives and Lorraine McIntosh?
These are all people that I’ve watched on the television for years and always admired. In fact, I met Phyllis many moons ago because she played my mum in Nativity. She’s just such a legend and what a character Grace Bain is! She plays these strong, steely parts and yet she’s incredibly warm and funny. Just to be up close and personal to all these people and having a laugh with them was great. It really was wonderful. It was an incredibly unified cast I have to say. People hear actors wittering on “oh we all got on so well, we were one big happy family but we absolutely, genuinely did.
Sometimes, the more serious the job, the more you laugh. Life’s too short not to have a laugh. To me, that’s part of the joy of what we do.
Any memorable moments?
Well, being in Shetland during a summer heatwave wearing layers of cashmere will certainly stay with me forever that’s for sure! Beyond that, the beaches and the sea were incredible but one of the things that delighted me on a daily basis were the sheep – who knew there are so many different types?
What can viewers expect from this new series of Shetland?
I feel you can watch this new series of Shetland never having watched any of the others – you don’t need to know the back story. Bringing in a new character like Ruth Calder, it shines a light on the established characters like Tosh and Sandy which the fans of Shetland know and love. I think that when something has been around as long as Shetland has, there’s a familiarity about it but this time around, we’re looking at the same show from a different angle.
Interview with Alison O’Donnell
(Temporary DI Alison ‘Tosh” McIntosh)
Welcome back to Shetland! Where do we find Tosh as this new series begins?
It’s been about a year since we last saw Tosh and she has stepped into the role of DI at the Lerwick police station. It’s only on a temporary basis however, as for practical reasons she isn’t able, or perhaps doesn’t want, to make it official.
Tosh is very comfortable in the role so she has definitely been doing it for some time and has really found her rhythm. She has an easy rapport with Sandy [Steven Robertson] and Billy [Lewis Howden] and the team seems to be functioning well and not dealing with anything too grizzly. She also has a great connection with Harry [Tibu Fortes], the new procurator fiscal, who really champions her.
The world of Shetland police HQ is as we knew it – warm, reassuring and familiar. But change is coming and with it, fresh challenges for the team.
What is the storyline for this new series of Shetland?
A young woman from Shetland, Ellen Quinn [Maisie Norma Seaton], is living in London and getting herself involved in some pretty dubious schemes with her flatmate. This leads to her being in the wrong place at the wrong time and bearing witness to a very serious gangland killing. She flees the scene but not before being spotted and followed, all the way home to Shetland.
Met police officer DI Ruth Calder – played by the wonderful Ashley Jensen – is first at the scene and when her boss establishes that Ellen is from Shetland and has almost certainly headed home, he sends Calder after her and back to her childhood home.
Calder and Tosh must team up and put their respective skillsets and knowledge together to try and find Ellen, which will take them on a journey neither of them could ever have imagined, with ever more disturbing twists leading them deeper and deeper into a world of secrets and ultimately, to the truth behind it all.
What is the relationship like between Tosh and Calder and how do you see it progressing?
The relationship between Calder and Tosh is restless. It is new and fragile and their policing styles don’t always marry up. But these are two confident, experienced women who recognise the value of working together and pooling resources, and who respect each other, even though they don’t always see eye to eye. There are moments when Calder must accept that her tough, urban approach isn’t the best way to get results from a small island community and there are moments when Tosh must step aside and let Calder lead with all of her expertise in organised crime. There are moments of fracture, of doubt, and there are times when they really click and are absolutely on the same page.
Like any close relationship with someone you have to work alongside intensely, there are moments when it flows and moments when it doesn’t but they are both fiercely committed to their work, they always have that in common, and it is this dogged pursuit of truth and justice that is the engine that drives them as a team.
How would Tosh describe Calder?
Tosh would describe Calder as an extremely skilled and experienced police officer who doesn’t suffer fools and doesn’t mince her words, but who has an emotional hinterland and a softer side that she catches glimpses of and is very curious about.
What do you think are Tosh’s strengths and weaknesses?
Tosh’s superpower is her empathy, her ability to connect, her humanity. She has a softness and a kindness that is authentic and that means people trust her and will open up to her. This also allows her to get inside the heads of others, and to understand what might be motivating them and to make sense of their behaviour.
Her greatest weakness is probably her worrying. She can sometimes overthink things.
What was it like working with Ashley Jensen?
I had an absolute blast working with Ashley. Her approach to the job was pitch perfect. She was really open and collaborative and sensitive to the fact that this is a long-running show but at the same time she brought confidence and self-assuredness, both in terms of how cast-iron her characterisation of Ruth Calder was, and in terms of how she took the reins off-set and brought everybody together.
She is a wonderful mix of an absolute hoot and a consummate professional. There were days when I laughed so hard my stomach hurt and I was in danger of crying all my make-up off. But we never, ever lost focus or took our eyes off the ball. Figuring out our chemistry together was an outright pleasure and I’m really proud of what we created together.
Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen Tosh change from the chocolate vodka hungover new recruit to the temporary DI in charge…what’s that been like for you?
It’s hard to even describe what this journey has meant to me. I never, in a million years, thought I would still be playing this character over a decade after I was originally cast in the part.
Tosh and I have had parallel journeys. When we made the pilot, I myself was a real rookie. I had done very little TV and was a deer in headlights, thrown in at the deep end and learning on my feet how the whole business of making a TV show works. And as she grew in experience, and grew up, so did I.
We have both grown older, we are both mothers, we both have a huge amount of experience under our belts. It’s nice to be able to chart that journey for myself both on and off camera but this series, to be standing in front of the board, taking charge of the team…I felt like I had grown wings.
This new series of Shetland has a stellar guest cast – what was it like working with the likes of Phyllis Logan, Dawn Steele and Lorraine McIntosh?
This cast was extraordinary. Because the show has been reconfigured, it felt like a new beginning in a way and everybody really embraced that. It felt like we were all creating this new thing together, taking ownership and really giving it everything. The chemistry among everyone was off the scale. We had so much fun together, and we worked hard and we really worked as a team.
I would say that Phyllis, Dawn and Lorraine really brought everyone together. They are wonderful, charismatic, generous women who really led the way with their performances and their professionalism. Sometimes it was hard to concentrate during the scenes because watching them perform was so distracting, like being in the front row of a hit show.
We all have a WhatsApp group together and keep in touch and I imagine there will be lots of fun messages when the show airs.
The entire cast was amazing but I have a special place in my heart for the inimitable Don Gilét [who plays hitman Howell]. The first couple of weeks were quite disorientating for me as I found my feet in this new world of Shetland. The first day I remember really loosening up I was chasing him [Don] down a beach. I was in pain with laughing. He’s such a one-off, insanely funny and makes every day you’re working with him memorable and special.
What was it like returning to film on the Shetland Isles?
Like coming home! I was so happy when I learned we would be going back. I know the place so well now and look forward to visiting all my favourite beauty spots and eateries. My family love coming too and we had a really special time, especially as the weather was so gorgeous.
In 10 years of filming in Shetland I’ve never seen it so lovely. The sun was out and it was warm and the beaches there are so beautiful…also there’s a softplay now! So, life is complete.
Any memorable moments?
The crew were all wild swimming after work and I went along to Meal Beach one night and had a dip with them. I was an absolute wimp about it and took about 20 minutes to get in beyond waist height but it was so lovely. Some young people had a fire going on the beach and the water was so clear. That was really special.
What can viewers expect from this new series of Shetland?
This new series is so fresh. The heart of the show remains – the team that we know and love – but everything is shaken up by the arrival of Calder and the crime that comes along with her. Calder brings out a different side in all of us, she draws us out of our cosy comfort zones and challenges us to dig deeper. Ashley Jensen is phenomenal in the role.
We all know Ashley has incredible comedy chops but she can turn to a dramatic role with absolute ease and conviction and she brings so much to the show. It feels exciting. And the crime itself is really twisty, really chewy. There is so much for the audience to get their teeth into. Paul Logue’s [lead writer on Shetland] story and writing is deeply psychological, there is so much simmering beneath the surface…
Cast and Creatives
DI Ruth Calder – Ashley Jensen
DI Alison ‘Tosh’ McIntosh – Alison O’Donnell
DC Sandy Wilson – Steven Robertson
Sgt Billy McCabe – Lewis Howden
Cora McLean – Anne Kidd
Ellen Quinn – Maisie Norma Seaton
Grace Bain – Phyllis Logan
Stella Quinn – Dawn Steele
John Howell – Don Gilét
Cal Innes – Jamie Sives
Agnes Moffat – Ann Louise Ross
Heather Bain – Lorraine McIntosh
Lukas Nowak – Arnas Fedaravičius
Harry Lamont – Tibu Fortes
BBC Executive Producer – Gaynor Holmes
Silverprint Pictures Executive Producers – Kate Bartlett, Paul Logue & Denise Paul
Producer – Louise V Say
Lead Writer – Paul Logue
Writers – Denise Paul & Vivienne Harvey
Directors – Andy Newbery & Giulia Gandini
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