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Shetland season 8: everything we know including plot, cast and release date

Ashley Jensen as DI Ruth Calder in Shetland
Ashley Jensen as DI Ruth Calder in Shetland (BBC)

We're counting down the days until Shetland returns to BBC One with its highly-anticipated eighth season, which will introduce Ashley Jensen as the new lead.

The Scottish star, who joined the drama following Douglas Henshall's departure, is playing Met Police detective Ruth Calder in the new series, who returns to her native Shetland whilst investigating a murder case. Intrigued? Keep reading for everything we know about the upcoming season, including the plot, cast and release date.

What is Shetland season 8 about?

The new series sees DI Ruth Calder return to her hometown from London to retrieve the vulnerable witness to a gangland murder.

Her arrival forces Tosh to pause her investigation into a string of mysterious animal deaths to help Calder find the witness before it's too late.

Ashley Jensen as DI Ruth Calder in Shetland
Ashley Jensen stars as DI Ruth Calder in season 8 (BBC)

The synopsis reads: "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."

Who stars in Shetland season 8? Meet the cast

Alison O'Donnell will star alongside Ashley in the drama, reprising her role as DS Tosh.

Also returning to the series are Steven Robertson as DC Sandy Wilson, Lewis Howden as Sgt Billy McCabe, Angus Miller as Donnie, Anne Kidd as Cora McLean, Conor McCarry as PC Alex Grant and Eubha Akilade as PC Lorna Burns.

Ashley Jensen as DI Ruth Calder and Alison O'Donnell as DI Tosh McIntosh in Shetland
Ashley Jensen as DI Ruth Calder and Alison O'Donnell as DI Tosh McIntosh (BBC)

Fans can also expect to see some new faces in the series, including Annika star Jamie Sives, Downton Abbey's Phyllis Logan, Granite Harbour's Dawn Steele and Sherwood's Don Gilet.

Also appearing in the drama are Ann Louise Ross (River City, Katie Morag) and Lorraine McIntosh (Outlander, My Name is Joe).

Ashley Jensen as DI Ruth Calder and Jamie Sives as Cal Innes in Shetland
Jamie Sives plays Cal Innes in the new series (BBC)

MORE: Shetland star to appear in All Creatures Great and Small season four – details

READ: Shetland actor Douglas Henshall to appear in star-studded BBC drama alongside Downton Abbey star

Shetland season 8 release date

Shetland series eight will premiere on Wednesday 1 November at 9pm on BBC One and iPlayer.

Phyllis Logan as Grace Bain in Shetland
Phyllis Logan plays Grace Bain (BBC)

Why did Douglas Henshall leave Shetland?

Douglas Henshall handed in his detective badge last year after seven seasons of playing DI Jimmy Perez.

Speaking to the BBC about his departure, the actor explained that he felt it was the "right time" to bring Jimmy's story to a close.

"I decided to leave a few years ago because I felt that Perez's story was coming to a natural end - it was time to find a resolution to Perez's private life," he said. "I never wanted to ruin the things that were unique to him and our series so it felt like the right time to wrap up his story in a way that would be satisfactory to everybody."

Douglas Henshall, as DI Jimmy Perez'Shetland'
Douglas Henshall played DI Jimmy Perezfor seven seasons (ITV/Shutterstock)

READ: Shetland star Douglas Henshall makes candid comment about lack of TV roles after show exit

What has Ashley Jensen said about joining the show?

Ashley said she was "thrilled" to be taking on the role of DI Ruth after being announced as the new lead in November last year.

"I am absolutely thrilled to be joining Shetland as DI Ruth Calder," the After Life star said in a statement. "It's such a hugely successful show and I am aware I have very big boots to fill since the departure of DI Perez, who was very much loved by fans of the show."

Ashley Jensen joins the show
Alison and Ashley filming season eight

She continued: "There will be a different dynamic with Ruth amongst the regular characters and a few more new interesting characters to enjoy."

More recently, Ashley addressed criticism from the show's fanbase, who felt Alison O'Donnell – aka DS Tosh – should have taken over as the main detective.

"I love working with Alison and bringing in my character shines a light on Tosh, so we see a different side to her," she told RadioTimes.com.

Ashley Jensen and Alison O'Donnell in Shetland season 8
Season 8 premieres on Wednesday 1 November at 9pm on BBC One (Kirsty Anderson)

"Of course, there will be people who miss Dougie [Henshall] because he was great, but with new directors and a new lead writer, Shetland has kept everything that's wonderful about it but it's somehow amplified."

"It's lovely that it's two women leading the show," she added.

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