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Reviews / What next? Will Ruth return for Shetland 9?

Our reviewer Tom Morton shares his views after watching the latest Shetland crime drama for six consecutive Wednesday nights

DI Tosh McIntosh (Alison O'Donnell) and DI Ruth Calder (Ashley Jensen) starring in series 9 and 10 of Shetland. Photo: ITV Studios

Well, somebody likes Teenage Fanclub.

Way back in Episode One we had What You Do To Me signifying Cal and Ruth’s 30-year reunion tryst, and at the end, there were Bellshill’s finest again, Cal having been consigned, fatally to a roadside ditch via a windscreen, full of beer and speed.

As the Fannies’ Star Sign twanged and wheezed plangently in the background, Ruth plunged into the sea in Cal’s honour, imitating his previous efforts at ‘wild’ swimming. The music supposedly swelled from an ancient cassette mix tape made for Cal by Ruth back in her wild and crazy C90 youth.

Not a killer whale in sight, though the show had well and truly ‘jumped the orca’ back in its otherwise saggy mid-period, with all that stuff about burning bodies in a Viking pyre while men made strange, guttural noises. As if such a thing could ever happen in Shetland!

Which reminds me, I wonder if that plan they had in Nesting to charge would-be inhabitants of Valhalla to have their ashes inserted in the Up Helly Aa galley ever came to fruition? Talk about a hot development opportunity! Funding by the Shetland Community Development Fund already secure, surely?

Anyway, that was Shetland, that was, all slick and spruced up in its new guise, with everything from the titles and theme music to the sometimes bewildering variety of knitwear on display (nice hoodie, peerie Rory) given a right good redd-up.

If the dark neon glamour of that early London murder soon gave way to doity shopkeepers bundled into freezers, the brutality of this series was made evident in the detailed bloodiness and the swearing. Everyone, from Bain matriarch Grace to Ruth herself, was effing and blinding like refugees from Irvine Welsh’s Crime. And everyone knows that no-one in Shetland (as opposed to Shetland) ever uses bad language.

So, the plot (spoiler alert if you don’t want to know yet – the whole series is on iPlayer here): The dad did it. I never trusted that bun. Ellen was off the rails because…well, spoiler alert, it was that old standby, incest. I actually find this kind of narrative offensive on several levels. First, it cynically exploits a desperately sad family situation for cheaply shocking effect. Second, it is such a common trope in detective fiction. Chinatoon in da sooth end! Third, it is a pathetic rural cliché in the minds of citified scriptwriters: that’s what most of those islanders get up to, after all.

There were subplots, of course: I loved the hapless hitmen, who got their just deserts thanks to foolishly putting themselves in the hands of Jimmy Perez’s dead mum. There was Cal, played by the terrific Jamie Sieves from the completely wonderful Guilt, and his dodgy drug dealing disguised as candlemaking. Though his inability to form even the rudiments of a chord while pretending to play guitar fair got on my wick…

And there was the blackmailing of ponytailed psychiatrist Asad over the death of his son. This was a waste of Lorraine McIntosh whose impressively malevolent performance as Heather Bain, bad cleaner from hell or Kilmarnock, promised much viciousness but in the end, crumbled tearfully into her caddy of dusters and Pledge. Also, I couldn’t work out if the guy she lived with was son or lover. Maybe that was deliberate, given the looming payoff.

Elsewhere, Ashley Jensen was predictably wonderful as Ruth Calder, the Met ‘tec reluctantly coming home to the islands she had fled, having apparently been very badly behaved in her Bandwagonesque days, listening to Byrds imitators and drinking Bacardi Breezers. The parallels between her and Ellen, with the possibility that they may have been half-sisters raised by the spectre of Ruth’s dead shagging minister of a father, were obvious. But in the end, they were submerged by the ludicrous sheep-slaughtering, bodysnatching midnight cavorting we had to endure.

I wasn’t sure about the dynamic between Ruth and Tosh, though Alison O’Donnell was impressive in her beefed-up Jimmyless role. Steven Robertson, a great actor, (I remember the Splinters days) was left to deal with Sandy’s hapless bumbling, which he doesn’t deserve. We’ve seen Sandy go off the rails before. I think he should move into Bad Lieutenant or Godfather territory in the next series. Shetland Ponies’ heads in TV producers’ beds!

There were some oddities: that female cop who kept appearing in the foreground of shots, saying and doing nothing. A procurator fiscal who seemed to be lording it over the entire cop shop, looking like he’d just wondered in from the Morton Lodge. Those flats in Newton Mearns, the pub in Cumbernauld and the use of Greenock’s waterfront to masquerade as Lerwick. You can see Rothesay from here!

Best of all was the One Minister of All Shetland inhabiting the Tingwall manse and presiding over the Tingwall Kirk, which as we all know has been flogged by the Church of Scotland and is now in the process of being sold again, perhaps so it can be turned into a temple to sheep-slaughtering Viking tattooists. I presume they won’t mind at the Kirk’s HQ in Edinburgh. That would be an ecumenical matter.

What next? Will Ruth return? That option seems open, and I for one would welcome Ashley Jensen in a more settled Cagney and Lacey kind of set-up with Allison O’Donnell’s Tosh. We will have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, did Ashley-as-Ruth really run into the sea wearing all that expensive knitwear? Get that woman a jumper board!


What did you make of the latest instalment of the Shetland crime drama series? Please feel free to share your thoughts below in the Comment section.

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