The doctoral defence is the oral examination of the doctoral thesis. While it is a major milestone for doctoral candidates, this event is often shrouded in mystery. In this article, I explore the doctoral defence from an international perspective. I have studied the format of the defence based on written testimonies as well as the literature on this topic. From this analysis, I distinguish four main elements of the defence format: (1) timing of the defence with respect to thesis publication, (2) number of steps in the defence, (3) public or private defence, and (4) the timeline of the defence itself. I then use these building blocks of the doctoral defence format to discuss differences and similarities between the formats, and finally to categorize defence formats used internationally by analysing the format of 26 countries, 24 of which use an oral defence format. The result is a deeper understanding of the defence format, which is valuable for candidates, committee members, supervisors, and administrators, and which can also serve the current discussions within the European Union on a standard format for the doctoral defence. Ultimately, understanding the defence format removes the mystery surrounding the defence.