The PhD viva - regardless of its format - has the potential to be a signifi cant rite of passage for the student. It is an experience that can resonate for months or years afterwards. Part of the challenge is that for everyone involved - student, supervisory team and examiners - a degree of end-point uncertainty exists. These ambiguities and tensions are perhaps an inherent part of any examination but are particularly characteristic of the examination of the individual and unique body of work that constitutes the doctoral thesis. In recent years, increased attention has been placed on the processes that surround the examination, aiming to increase transparency, consistency and fairness. However, the process of examining a student and their thesis remains challenging and is surrounded by different agendas, ideologies and practices. This paper examines some of the issues surrounding the PhD viva, primarily focusing on the British viva whilst weaving in commentary about the Australian system.