This paper examines the roles and significance of the viva in the doctoral examination process. More specifically, it addresses the following question-what purposes does the viva serve in the PhD assessment process? Discussion focuses upon (1) the roles of the viva as delineated within university policy; and (2) the purposes of the viva from the perspectives of examiners, supervisors and doctoral candidates. The findings suggest that, whether viewed in terms of institutional statements, or in terms of the perspectives of academics or candidates, there is no consensus regarding the roles of the viva in the PhD examination process. Moreover, our research reveals that there are inconsistencies and contradictions concerning the purposes of the viva, both at the levels of policy and practice.