Shetland season 8 full season guide: plot, cast, and more

Shetland season 8 team of Tosh and Detective Inspector Ruth Calder (Ashley Jensen).
(Image credit: BBC)

Shetland season 8 saw Ashley Jensen taking over detecting duties from the previous lead, Douglas Henshall. Here's a complete guide to the series including episode summaries, cast details, and the trailer.

Douglas, who has been with the series since the very beginning as DI Jimmy Perez, said goodbye to the series in season 7. Thankfully, that’s not the end of the show though, with Extras star Ashley now starring in the hugely popular BBC crime drama.

Ashley teams up with Shetland regular Alison O’Donnell as Detective Inspector "Tosh" McIntosh. And in our five-star review of the series, we were struck by the immediate chemistry between the pair.

The whole series (available on iPlayer) has now aired. Shetland season 9 has not yet been officially ordered, but it seems highly likely there will be one given the success of season 8.

Shetland season 8 release date

Ashley Jensen as DI Ruth Calder in Shetland. She is standing on the beach wearing a warm grey cashmere coat, with an electric blue scarf wrapped around her neck with the ends flapping in the end. Ruth's body is facing the camera but her face is looking off to the side, out to sea

Ashley Jensen as DI Ruth Calder (Image credit: BBC)

Shetland season 8 started on BBC One on Wednesday 1 November, 2023, at 9 pm. The whole series has now aired and is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

It arrived in the US on BritBox on Wednesday, 29 November, 2023. If you want more great shows to enjoy please check out our best BBC dramas guide.

Ellen Quinn (Maisie Norma Seaton), wearing jeans and a red puffer jacket, runs alongside a bus, banging on the side of the vehicle

Ellen Quinn (Maisie Norma Seaton) (Image credit: BBC)


Howell (Don Gilét) and Nowak (Arnas Fedaravičius) are standing facing each other in a car park, arguing. Howell is holding the RSPB handbook of British birds

Howell (Don Gilét) and Nowak (Arnas Fedaravičius)  (Image credit: BBC)

Ashley Jensen stars as DI Ruth Calder, a native Shetlander who returns to the isles after 20 years working for the Met in London.

She says: "I am absolutely thrilled to be joining Shetland as DI Ruth Calder. 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.

"There will be a different dynamic with Ruth amongst the regular characters and a few more new interesting characters to enjoy. However, the integrity of the show and the world that has been created will remain very much in the same tone as the last seven seasons. It's a real privilege to be asked to lead this show into a new chapter. I can’t wait to be working in Scotland again. I have missed it!” 

Ruth will be working closely with series regular, DS Alison 'Tosh' McIntosh (Alison O’Donnell).

Gaynor Holmes, Commissioning Editor for the BBC adds: "I am absolutely delighted that Ashley is joining the stellar cast of Shetland. Ashley is an immensely accomplished and well-loved actress who is known internationally and we can’t wait to welcome her into the Shetland family when filming begins in the spring."

The cast of Shetland for the eighth series are Phyllis Logan (Guilt, Downtown Abbey), Jamie Sives (Guilt, Annika), Dawn Steele (Holby City, Granite Harbour), Don Gilet (EastEnders, Sherwood), Ann Louise Ross (River City, Katie Morag) and Lorraine McIntosh (Outlander, My Name is Joe). The guest cast will star alongside series regulars including Steven Robertson (playing DC Sandy Wilson), Lewis Howden (Sgt Billy McCabe), Anne Kidd (Cora McLean), Angus Miller (Donnie), Conor McCarry (PC Alex Grant) and Eubha Akilade (PC Lorna Burns).

Grace Bain (Phyllis Logan) stands inside her kitchen, in front of a cabinet filled with plates, birthday cards and bunting. Her son Bobby (Russ Bain) stands behind her, leaning against the cabinet.

Phyllis Logan, who plays Grace, is among the fantastic guest cast (Image credit: BBC)

What’s the plot?

The BBC teases: "The new series sees Met Police Detective Inspector Ruth Calder (Ashley Jensen), return to her native Shetland to retrieve the vulnerable witness to a gangland murder. Tosh (Alison O’Donnell) must pause her investigation into a string of mysterious animal deaths to help DI Ruth Calder find the witness before it’s too late.

"However, Calder’s hostility to Shetland will challenge Tosh’s view of her adopted home and their journey into the darker recesses of Shetland's past and present will test this fragile, new partnership."

What happened in episode 1?

Episode one opens with Ellen Quinn attempting to scam a man by going back to his and robbing him, but it takes a turn for the worse. She ends up being witness to his murder, and it’s revealed he was a police informant named Remis who has likely been taken out by a notorious criminal. Ellen is now involved and flees to Shetland, where DI Ruth Calder teams up with local law enforcement to track her down. Ellen ultimately meets a tragic end, as she’s found dead near the beach after being kidnapped by career criminal, Howell.

What happened in episode 2?

Cora McLean (ANNE KIDD);DI ‘Tosh’ McIntosh (ALISON O’DONNELL) looking scared as she looks at Ellen's body in Shetland season 8

(Image credit: BBC/Silverprint Pictures/Mark Mainz)

Episode 2 sees Calder and Tosh trying to figure out what happened to Ellen, and it soon transpires that perhaps her murder wasn't Nowak and Howell's doing after all and there is more to her death than meets the eye. The plot thickens when at the end of the episode Tosh attends the post-mortem on Ellen and finds she has a tattoo of the same symbol that has been found on the dead sheep that keep turning up around the island. Also, Nowak dies after being shot and Howell is caught by the police and taken in for questioning - but his answers only leave the police with more questions than ever.

What happens in episode 3?

Episode 3 is nothing short of chilling, and as Calder and Tosh's investigation into what happened to Ellen Quinn ramps up, the twists and turns just keep on coming. A strange corn doll turns up at the site where Ellen’s body was found, which soon leads them to the Knox family. They are instantly suspicious of the son, Tom, and when Ellen’s body is stolen from the hospital mortuary, Tom is Calder and Tosh’s prime suspect for the crime. 

However, when Peter Ayre’s car is spotted in the hospital car park the night Ellen’s body went missing, the police head to his house, only to find a horrific scene unfolding. Peter is in the middle of a strange ritual, where he is burning a fire in the grass in the shape of the mysterious symbol from Ellen’s tattoo and chanting and singing around a bonfire, which at closer look has Ellen’s body lying in the middle of it. But if that wasn’t enough, there’s one more twist in the episode when Calder finds out her father had an affair with Ellen’s mother, Stella Quinn. Does this mean Calder has been investigating her own sister’s murder without even realising?

What happens in episode 4?

Tosh and Calder grill Peter Ayre, their prime suspect in Ellen Quinn's murder. But while his ancient religious ceremony from the last episode has left everyone suspicious of him, it soon becomes clear that he has an accomplice when a box of letters is discovered in his house. 

When the police discover that Rosemary's boyfriend, Liam Kenmuir, has links to Peter and his hospital pass was also used the night Ellen's body was stolen, Tosh and Calder think they've got their killer. However, it doesn't take long for them to work out that he is covering for Rosemary and she is Peter's pen friend and the mysterious sheep-killer. But did she kill Ellen? 

Meanwhile, Cal and Bobby consider going into business together but before their dodgy drug dealing plan can get off the ground, Cal puts his foot in it by mentioning Stella's potential fling with Calder's father. At the end of the episode Cal's van is seen in a crumpled heap on the side of the road, with a lifeless Cal beside it. Did Bobby tamper with his breaks?

What happens in episode 5?

The penultimate episode of Shetland sees Calder struggling in the wake of Cal's untimely death, but while she questions Bobby and later finds out Cal was dealing drugs with Neil, Tosh is closing in on the Sandat family after linking Ellen's death to the tragic passing of their young son, Akmal. 

At first Farida and Azir are adamant they aren't hiding anything, but it soon emerges that they lied about Akmal's death and not only were Ellen and Heather involved, but Heather has been blackmailing them ever since. But that's not all, Azir also confesses he saw Ellen the night that she died after the police find a blanket matching the fibers in Ellen's hair in the back of Azir's car. He is adamant he didn't kill her but instead drove her to the Bains' farm the night she died... was Ellen killed by one of her own family? 

What happens in episode 6?

With the knowledge that Ellen went home on the night she was killed, the police close in on the Bains, and it soon becomes clear some of the family know more about Ellen's final hours than others. After his suspicious trips to London to see Ellen, Bobby is Tosh and Calder's prime suspect, however, it soon transpires there is more to this story than anyone could have imagined when Clader works out Bobby wasn't Ellen's uncle but was actually her father. As the news of incest sends shockwaves through the island, it is up to Calder and Tosh to use this dark new discovery to find Ellen's killer, and it doesn't take them long to work out it was Kieran who killed Ellen after he found out that he wasn't her dad after all. As Kieran is arrested, Calder is upset to learn that Cal's death was nothing more than a tragic accident and she decides to stay on Shetland for a little longer, determined to build bridges with her family.

Is there a trailer?

Yes, here's the brilliant trailer...

David Hollingsworth

David is the What To Watch Editor and has over 20 years of experience in television journalism. He is currently writing about the latest television and film news for What To Watch.

Before working for What To Watch, David spent many years working for TV Times magazine, interviewing some of television's most famous stars including Hollywood actor Kiefer Sutherland, singer Lionel Richie and wildlife legend Sir David Attenborough. 

David started out as a writer for TV Times before becoming the title's deputy features editor and then features editor. During his time on TV Times, David also helped run the annual TV Times Awards. David is a huge Death in Paradise fan, although he's still failed to solve a case before the show's detective! He also loves James Bond and controversially thinks that Timothy Dalton was an excellent 007.

Other than watching and writing about telly, David loves playing cricket, going to the cinema, trying to improve his tennis and chasing about after his kids!