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Shetland star Alison O’Donnell’s sadness as ‘sublime time’ with Dougie Henshall ends – but he’s leaving on a high

Alison O'Donnell, who stars as 'Tosh' in Shetland promises a thrilling new series for fans. Image: ITV Studios.
Alison O'Donnell, who stars as 'Tosh' in Shetland promises a thrilling new series for fans. Image: ITV Studios.

News that Dougie Henshall was bowing out of Shetland came as a bombshell for fans of the series – but not for his co-star Alison O’Donnell.

The actor, who plays DS Alison “Tosh” McIntosh, has known since last year when back-to-back filming for series six and seven began that her colleague and friend was bowing out of the role of DI Jimmy Perez.

“It was out in the open then, which was bittersweet because, obviously, I got a great long wind down with him, a very protracted goodbye,” said Alison.

“It was great to still have two series to do, so I just tried to be really present and soak it all in, because it’s been so special.”

Alison O’Donnell and Dougie Henshall filming the new series of Shetland on location.

With Dougie leaving, the central mystery around Shetland now becomes what the next series will look like without Perez, with filming scheduled for next year.

Alison O’Donnell sorry to see end of  ‘sublime’ time with Dougie Henshall

It’s not one that Alison can answer; with details being kept so tightly under wraps, she wasn’t even able to even talk about filming her final scenes with Dougie or whether she would be returning as Tosh.

She was, though, able to talk about her sadness at saying goodbye to her fellow actor who has become a firm friend.

“I find it hard to imagine that I will have a more meaningful creative collaboration with anybody. To have that for 10 years and work so closely together and spend so much time together in quite an intense way.

Steven Robertson as DC Sandy Wilson, Dougie Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez and Alison O’Donnell as DS Alison ‘Tosh’ McIntosh in Shetland.

“It’s been sublime and I’m sorry it’s coming to an end. But I feel really chuffed for him. I think it’s a great time to step away, a strong moment to say ‘this has been brilliant, but it’s time for new things, and I fully support that.”

What Alison can categorically say is that series seven of Shetland, which begins on Wednesday August 10, is going to be a rollercoaster ride for fans, as the team investigate the mysterious disappearance of a vulnerable young man.

New series of Shetland will be ‘tense with lots of twists and turns’

“The new series is, as you would expect from Shetland, very tense with lots of twists and turns and a really satisfying large cast of characters, so you never quite know who is going to turn up to do what at what point,” she said.

Perez and Tosh on the case trying to find a vulnerable young man who has gone missing in Shetland.

“So, hopefully, more of what people know and love but with a fresh twist in the mix. The initial incident is a missing person as opposed to a murder, so we’re looking for somebody who we believe is still alive. That’s a slightly different avenue to go down.”

Alison is clearly delighted at returning to the role of the feisty detective, Tosh, who has come a long way since Shetland first aired.

“In the new series there’s quite a big development in her life. A year has passed since the end of season six, so by the time we meet her again she’s had her baby and she’s now juggling family life and work life; she’s been covering for Perez while he was suspended.

“So she’s back to work, Perez is back and they hit the ground running. They’re a well-oiled machine and they’ve got work to do.”

Alison O’Donnell says she is ‘crazily lucky’ to spend time on Shetland

Alison was no stranger to portraying Tosh as a new mother. She had just become a mum for the second time six months before filming started – which was helpful when she was shooting scenes with Tosh’s baby.

“There were issues with things like how to wear a sling, which was completely second nature to me, it was like ‘right guys, I know how to do that’ which saved us a lot of time,” she said.

“And just being around the baby, my hormones were very ready for that. It felt very easy from that point of view.”

Alison O’Donnell loves filming on Shetland for the BBC murder-mystery series.

Filming on Shetland is a joy for Alison, who said she has been “crazily lucky” to spend so much time there.

“It really is as magical as it looks and to get to spend so much time there and come to know it as a second home has been really pleasurable. I love it,” said Alison, adding she can spend up to six weeks at a time on Shetland during filming.

“Since I’ve had my family, I’ve been able to take them with me, so I already have really great memories of taking my kids to the beach and the swimming pool. My daughter keeps asking when we are going back. I think we are lifelong fans.”

Shetland’s popularity is now worldwide says Alison O’Donnell

With series seven about to go to air, Alison is confident it will cement Shetland’s popularity, which is now worldwide.

“It just feels mad; there are people getting in touch with me from all over the world who watch it,” she said.

“It’s just unbelievably gratifying when news goes out about season seven going to air and there’s a swell of excitement and people are looking forward to it.

Shetland fans will have to wait to see what the future holds for Tosh, played by Alison O’Donnell.

“I think it’s a sort of alchemy of all the component parts. You’ve got this beautiful, completely unique setting that provides so much drama in its own way; the books gave us this fantastic central character, Perez, that Dougie has just taken and run with.

When will the new series of Shetland be aired by BBC Scotland?

“And I think people genuinely like the little team, people have come to know us and they want to hang out in that world.”

And as the rest of the world settles in to enjoy the latest adventure for the Shetland team, Alison will be enjoying putting her feet up.

Sad farewells for the cast of Shetland as Dougie Henshall leaves after series seven, which starts next week.

“I’ve been enjoying taking a bit of time out and focussing on that. My wee girl starts school this year, so this summer is just all about getting her into a nice routine. That’s mostly what I’ve been focussing on.

“But who knows what’s around the corner.”

Shetland will air from Wednesday August 10 on BBC Scotland and BBC iPlayer.

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