From writer-creators the Duffer brothers to young stars Millie Bobby Brown and Noah Schnapp, everyone associated with Stranger Things has promised that season four of the Netflix sci-fi smash will be bigger, longer and infinitely darker than anything which has preceded it.

They weren’t wrong. They could have added too that it would also be more expensive: this latest series is reported to have cost $30 million (£24 million), but as the glowing reviews roll in the streaming giant will doubtless judge it worth both the money and the three year wait.

Volume One of season four, seven episodes in all, will debut on Friday, to be followed by Volume Two on July 1. Episode one runs to 76 minutes, while the season finale is reported to clock in at 120 minutes plus. So, yes, it’s certainly long.

As for the dialled up darkness and ramped up horror, it’s evident from the first minutes in a brutal opening sequence set in 1979 in the mysterious government facility in which Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) was once incarcerated.

As for our young heroes, they are now three years older and split between Indiana and California. Joyce (Winona Ryder) has headed west, taking sons Will (Schnapp) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) with her, as well as Eleven. She’s now known as Jane Hopper and is being bullied by the It Girls at her new school. Oh, and she has lost her ability to flip over cars and best Demogorgons. Meanwhile Will has taken up painting and Joyce is working in telesales – or she is until a knock on the door delivers a mysterious parcel covered in Soviet stamps.

Back in Hawkins, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) has turned jock and joined the basketball team leaving Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) to fly the flag for all things nerdy. Max (Sadie Sink) has a darker storyline: plagued by nightmares and trying to deal with an alcoholic mother, she brushes away offers of help from the kindly school counsellor and instead wanders the corridor listening to Kate Bush. Darker still, we’re treated to our first view of a new monster – Vecna – and a hint or two that the peace which has fallen on Hawkins after the tumultuous events of six months ago is soon going to be broken. But you probably knew that, right?

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Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas, Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin, Sadie Sink as Max 

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Vecna, a new monster for Stranger Things 4

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Robert Englund as Victor Creel in Stranger Things Season 4

There are a slew of new characters – pick of the bunch is dope-dealing, Dungeons & Dragons-loving metal-head Eddie (Joseph Quinn), founder of the school’s Hellfire Club – and there's a welcome return for conspiracy nut Murray (Fleabag’s Brett Gelman). Eagle-eyed viewers of a certain age may also recognise the name Robert Englund in the credits. He plays Victor Creel, a notorious 1950s murderer whose eyes have been gouged out and stitched shut, however he’s better known as Freddy Kreuger from the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, an acknowledged influence on this new season.

Verdict? Great stuff. A triumphant return for an binge-worthy drama which clearly still has places to go and stories to tell.