IT had all the suspense of one of the show's cliffhanger endings when Dougie Henshall's departure from long-running BBC drama Shetland was revealed. Could it have spelled the end for the popular drama or would the show go on?

The announcement earlier this year that the actor was to walk away after seven series and bid farewell to the complicated character DI Jimmy Perez, left fans wondering what would happen next.

However, the BBC said it was committed to an eighth series of the island detective drama and now a new lead has been announced.

Read more: Douglas Henshall quits role as Shetland's DI Jimmy Perez

Former Mayflies and Extras star Ashley Jensen is to take over in the lead role when Shetland returns for its next series in 2023 and she admits she has 'big boots to fill.'

Jensen, who will play DI Ruth Calder, a native Shetlander who returns to the isles after 20 years working for the Met in London, said: "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."

HeraldScotland: Douglas Henshall announced he was quitting Shetland earlier this yearDouglas Henshall announced he was quitting Shetland earlier this year (Image: BBC)

Originally based on award-winning novels by crime writer Ann Cleeves, the next series of Shetland will see Jensen's character work closely with DS Alison ‘Tosh’ McIntosh played by Alison O’Donnell while joining series regulars Steven Robertson (Sandy), Lewis Howden (Billy) and Anne Kidd (Cora).

The Scots actor, who got her break playing downtrodden Maggie in Ricky Gervais' comedy series Extras, says it is a privilege to lead the show and while it is a homecoming for her character she is looking forward to working in Scotland.

After landing a role in US comedy-drama Ugly Betty, it led to a seven-year contract for Jensen to play the straight-talking Christina in the Salma Hayek-produced American show and led her to relocate to LA and renting a house in the Hollywood Hills.

HeraldScotland: Ashley Jensen reunited with Ricky Gervais in After LifeAshley Jensen reunited with Ricky Gervais in After Life (Image: PA)

“There will be a different dynamic with Ruth amongst the regular characters and a few more new interesting characters to enjoy," Jensen, from Annan, Dumfriesshire, added. "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."

A Silverprint Pictures production (part of ITV Studios), the new series will film in locations on the Shetland Isles and across Scotland from the Spring.

Gaynor Holmes, Commissioning Editor for the BBC said she was delighted that Jensen is joining the "stellar cast" of Shetland.

Ms Holmes said: "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.”

Kate Bartlett, executive producer for Silverprint Pictures says : “We're so thrilled that Ashley is going to be leading this new series of Shetland, alongside Alison O'Donnell as Tosh. They will be an exciting duo in Paul Logue's compelling new version. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to make another series with such incredible Scottish talent.”

Shetland is loved by millions of fans on BBC One and iPlayer, with this year’s series averaging 7.2 million viewers.

The new series of Shetland will be written by Paul Logue and produced by Louise V Say .

Henshall debuted the role of DI Perez on BBC One in 2013 in the first TV adaptation of the award-winning novels by crime writer Ann Cleeves.

Starting out as a two-part pilot almost 10 years ago, it was adapted from the Cleeves' novel Red Bones.

Even at the outset Henshall thought Perez was an interesting character and there was possibility, but he didn't think it would last very long in that two-part format. It was Henshall who tried to convince the makers from the beginning to do six hours on one story.

Speaking after his departure was announced, Henshall said: "It’s been one of the privileges of my career to play Jimmy Perez for almost ten years and to work with so many wonderful people both in front of and behind the camera, and also to spend so much time in Shetland. The Isles were so much a part of our show and of Perez himself. I’ll miss him and the place. I wish everyone involved much luck with whatever happens next.”

Shetland is part of a growing list of BBC dramas from Scotland, including the recently announced adaptation of Shuggie Bain, alongside Mayflies, Granite Harbour, Guilt and Vigil. Shetland will be internationally distributed by ITV Studios.