Since he burst on to our screens just two months after 9/11, Jack Bauer has lived through nuclear blasts, numerous torture sessions, years of abuse in a Chinese jail, heroin addiction, infection with a weapons-grade virus, countless bullet wounds and even, on one occasion, death, to rescue the planet from oblivion several times over. But now his ordeal is drawing to an end. There will be no more series. Fortunately for those billions of us hooked, the eighth series will be released on DVD on Monday and Jack will soon be battling to prevent nuclear annihilation on the big screen.
So why has 24 held viewers in a vice-like grip over the last decade? "One of the predominant issues that defines where we're at was the attack on the sovereignty of the US on 9/11," says Kiefer Sutherland when I meet him in a hotel in New York's Meatpacking district. "There had never been an attack on continental US before. That was a game-changer. It affected everyone because whatever happens to the US affects everyone.
"One of the reasons 24 is shown in 100 countries, is the number one show in Brazil and Japan and has crossed cultural barriers is because it deals with terrorism. Terrorism is like the school bully – it's the one thing everyone is afraid of and no one can do anything about. There's a sense of helplessness but Jack is doing something about it. However helpless we may feel individually, at least this guy is taking care of business."
The 43-year old Canadian actor is equally cogent on the most controversial aspect of 24, the alacrity with which Jack reaches for the instruments of torture. In Torture Team, Philippe Sands' 2008 book about Guantánamo Bay, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver, a military lawyer from the camp, declared that Jack's attitude, "gave people a lot of ideas". In recognition of the changed mood, in season eight Jack is portrayed as a dinosaur whose brutally coercive approach to interrogation is no longer tolerated. "Howard Gordon [the show's executive producer] said, 'OK, if we're going to be dragged into this debate, let's make it an issue in the show.' So instead of running away from the things being lobbed at us, we caught them and threw them back!"
"My own opinion is that you have to behave the way you'd expect to be treated", says Sutherland. "Within the show, torture is a fantastic device to create drama, but I do not subscribe to it. We have a constitution. I believe in the due process of law and the idea that people are innocent till proven guilty and all the tenets that this country stands for. Am I naive enough to believe that this stuff doesn't go on? Of course it does. Do I agree with it? Absolutely not."
At the same time, Sutherland adds, critics should try to keep things in proportion. "We're working within the context of a fantasy TV show. We get pulled into the news, but 24 is not reality. When Jack jumps out of a building and falls underneath a garbage truck going at 45 miles an hour, we're not telling you to try this at home."
Sutherland admits that it feels "bittersweet" to be bringing the TV series to a close. "But even in the second series, people were saying, 'How many bad days can this guy have?' So, creatively, the series had to end for us to go on and make the film."
So how should things conclude for Jack in the movie? "Do I think he should go off to the countryside and have a perfect life? No!" Rather, the actor envisages his alter ego completing a final mission where he once more defeats the bad guys and averts a nuclear cataclysm. Then on his way home, Sutherland says, "Jack is walking across the street and he gets hit by a car!
"Wouldn't that be a great ending?"
Season 8 of '24' is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 8 November. Season 1 to 8 of '24' plus 'Redemption' is out on DVD on the same day