Shetland’s back – and it’s just murder for actor Douglas

The latest series of the murder mystery set against the stunning Scottish backdrop of the Shetland Isles returns next week.

Since 2013, viewers across the world have been hooked on the series, originally based on Ann Cleeves’ novels, with the fifth series to start on Tuesday, 12 February, at 9pm on BBC Scotland.

The series stars Douglas Henshall as Jimmy Perez, a detective inspector working for the Shetland police, with Alison O’Donnell as Detective Sergeant Alison “Tosh” Macintosh, and Steven Robertson as Detective Constable Sandy Wilson.

Other regulars include Mark Bonnar, Lewis Howden, Erin Armstrong, Julie Graham and Anne Kidd.

The new series, opens on a windswept hillside, as a young man waits patiently, shivering in a grey suit. He’s waiting for someone. A vehicle appears and he tentatively approaches. A few days later, a jogger on her morning run discovers a severed hand on the beach.

Perez and the team are shocked by the discovery. Even more so, when a holdall containing further body parts are found at an inlet nearby. An initial forensic investigation reveals that the body parts all belong to the same victim. What events led up to this discovery?

Spotted in Lerwick a few days before, the team use CCTV to trace the victim’s last movements. Having identified him as a young Nigerian man, they start to scrutinise his emails and social media accounts. And it is then that the investigation takes a sinister turn…

Douglas Henshall tried to explain the show’s popularity: ‘I think it’s maybe to do with the fact that the writers of our show have really hit their stride as far as these characters and the format is concerned.

‘One of the benefits of a long-running show is that the public get to care about these people and care about what happens to them. Also the writers get to properly explore the characters over a period of time; it’s not like they’re having to cram everything into one go and that’s it.

‘They get to put people in real situations and explore what they’re like. And I think ultimately the public care about characters; it’s the characters that people like. Audiences have had six years to build up a relationship with these people and I think they’re hooked now.’

Perez and his team have challenges, both in terms of the cases and his relationships.

The actor said: ‘The challenges are the same, getting people to trust him. When you live alone and you live for your job, how do you manage stop yourself getting really badly wounded by what it is that you do? You have to be able to keep the job at arm’s length sometimes and I don’t think he’s very good at that.

‘There are some very harsh truths coming through from an old friend who’s returned to Shetland…

‘I mean, she knows him very well, and there’s probably not a lot of people who are prepared to say the things to him that she says. And she’s right. So yeah I think she absolutely nails him.’

Douglas, who also starred ITV’s Primeval, enjoyed returning to Scotland to shoot the series, which isn’t entirely made in the islands, with much of the location shoot taking place on the mainland.

He added: ‘We were up there for about 6 -7 weeks. It’s great, I love going there.

‘Our crew are fantastic. It was a really nice bunch of people and we got on very well. When you’re working very hard and the elements are against you it draws people very close. We went in summer and we haven’t been in summer for a long time, and the amount of people who are coming to Shetland now as a direct result of the show is astounding!

‘Apparently since we started the series, the amount of people who are coming has gone up by 40% year on year, its nuts! So that was good fun in summer.’