Shetland duo hit 'sweet spot' of old and new in BBC crime drama

As a season opener, episode one of the new Shetland series has it all - its usual stunning landscapes, a gangland hit, and some mysterious sheep deaths.

But after ten years of its much-loved leading man it also brings a change in direction.

The departure of Douglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez means series eight of the hit BBC One murder-mystery drama now welcomes new lead Ashley Jensen as DI Ruth Calder.

But according to Alison O'Donnell, who continues in her role as DI 'Tosh' McIntosh, the evolution of the show has been well-handled.

O'Donnell told BBC Scotland's The Edit that the change has been good for the show.

"What's really nice about this is it's freshened everything up," she said. "They were quite clever and hit a sweet spot of keeping enough of all the old elements that people know and love, and honouring what went before.

"You've still got the same team there, Sandy and Billy - we are all still there talking about scones, but then you have this fresh element, and what's great about Calder is she is not there to make friends."

She added: "She doesn't mince her words. And that's new for us. It has all been quite warm hug but she comes in and fractures things.

"It was special because it felt like a refresh. We all felt we were making something brand new together."

The new series of Shetland, based on the novels by best-selling author Ann Cleeves, was filmed across the islands and in Glasgow earlier this year.

The plot follows the detectives on the trail of Ellen Quinn, who has witnessed a London gangland murder and fled home to Shetland.

Jensen, as DI Calder, is originally from Shetland but is working in the Met Police. Assigned to find the witness, she is swiftly told: "Pack your bags, you're going home".

Making her first appearance in the show is Lorraine McIntosh, also well-known for her vocals in Deacon Blue.

It's her first time on the show, but it's been a long time coming.

"I have been up for Shetland about five different times and never got it," she said. "I heard Dougie was leaving and thought maybe it will never go again. But it all worked in and it was really enjoyable."

She enjoyed the strong female-led cast, which includes veteran Scots actor and Downton Abbey star Phyllis Logan.

"So many women, it's a nice change," she said.

"My character is part of the Bain family - Phyllis is the matriarch and my aunt. I am the slightly outcast side of the family but I look at this family wanting to be much more at the heart of it.

"I think Heather is Machiavellian, ruthless and scheming and she is resentful and envious."

Douglas Henshall as Jimmy Perez
Douglas Henshall played Jimmy Perez

O'Donnell reckons having two female lead detectives makes the series a bit different, bringing a new dynamic to the show.

"They've not said, oh they are two women they will be great pals, or they are going to immediately hate each other - it is real, there are moments where we click and it keeps it fizzing along."

She is hoping the fans of the old set-up and new viewers will enjoy the refresh.

"If people were in love with the old iteration and they want to leave it there, fair enough. But we are hoping there are enough new elements to this that maybe it will attract newcomers and if they want to binge the entire box set, that's okay too."

And she teased that there is much more intrigue to come.

"It's surprises and twists," she said.

"There are amazing super sleuths out there who will pick up certain things.

"And I think some people will have an inkling about the who. But I don't think anyone is going to get the why."

Watch the full interview on The Edit, BBC Scotland channel, 19:15 on Saturday